Yesterday we visited Fermilab, home to the world’s largest operaring particle accelerator. I hear you say: but wait, isn’t the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland larger? Yes, but it isn’t operating yet; they’re still fixing the mess since it broke down in September last year. When the LHC goes online it will be the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, with a tunnel of 17 miles / 27 kilometers. The Tevatron at Fermilab is still 3.9 miles / 6.28 kilometer. You can see it on the following map.
Today we visited the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). Besides being home to the world’s largest particle accelerator currently in use (LHC is out of commission until at least this fall), Fermilab maintains much of their 6800 acre site with a variety of natural habitats for wildlife. This includes restored grassland prairie – once a major habitat across much of Illinois and the midwest, and former home to tens of millions of American Bison. Today, Fermilab is home to a small herd of bison.
Today over 70% of extant American Bison have been raised for human consumption. Large herds of free roaming wild bison can only be found in a few protected areas in North America, including Yellowstone National Park and Alberta’s Elk Island.
Five bison were brought to Fermilab by the first director, Robert Wilson, in 1969. In 1971 the herd increased by 21; today’s herd at the lab are descendants of those first 26 animals.
Sunday morning we made a walk at our nearest forest preserve, Rollins Savanna, and saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes and their young foraging through shallow water. We’ve been seeing a lot of cranes around here, but we hadn’t seen a baby crane yet. The two adults were picking out food and carefully giving it to the chick. It was very cute. Here are some pictures and a video we took:
We moved here in early February 2009 and our first bird to visit our feeders was an American Goldfinch on February 22nd. Today, just over 3 months later, we saw our 18th species: a Northern Flicker! So far we’d only seen these beautiful large woodpeckers in woods and nature reserves; it was the last bird we’d expected to see in our suburban backyard! She was sitting on the ground under our feeders, probably eating the ants that we’ve been seeing there since we put up a bowl of grape jelly for our Baltimore Orioles. She was only there for a few minutes and this was the best picture I could get:
I took this picture earlier this month from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Observatory when visiting downtown Chicago with my parents. They have a great new audio guide, the Sky Tour, in which David Schwimmer tells you all about the sights on 16 stops around the observation deck.
Before the 36-storey Tribune Tower was completed in 1925, correspondents for the Chicago Tribune newspaper brought back rocks and bricks from all over the world. Many of these stones have been incorporated into the lowest levels on the outside of the building and are labeled with their location of origin. Stones included in the wall are from such sites as the Taj Mahal, Parthenon, Great Pyramid, Notre-Dame and the Great Wall of China. On our visit to downtown Chicago last week, we were surprised to also see a brick from Leiden, our former home town, embedded in the wall.
We’ve been following this Hummingbird Migration Map that shows the migration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The small birds winter between southern Mexico and northern Panama and they start moving north as early as January. They cross the Gulf of Mexico nonstop for up to 500 miles and once in North America they migrate at an average rate of about 20 miles per day. We’ve been following their migration on the map since they entered the United States in late February. Today we saw that they have been reported here in northern Illinois, so we rushed out and set up our Hummingbird feeder:
We just got back from a short visit to Fox Lake, just 10 minutes from where we live, to see some Common Loons and American White Pelicans after reading about them on the Illinois birding list. Someone reported seeing pelicans and loons at Fox Lake with detailed instructions on how to get there, so we got in the car with our new Leica spotting scope and headed for the Mineola Marina in Fox Lake. It was pouring down rain, so we didn’t stay too long, but we did get to see 20 pelicans and 7 loons, which are two new birds for our lifelist. 🙂 More »
Just as we thought we’d seen the last snow for a while, we wake up to another winter wonderland. One week into spring and we had an overnight snowfall of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) here in northern Illinois. March had been very mild until now, with temperatures in the 70s (20oC+) in recent weeks, but it looks like we have to get our shovels out one more time. Springtime snowstorms are hardly out of the ordinary in Chicago. The record for total snowfall in March is 23.1 inches in 1926 and the record for total snowfall in April is 13.6 inches, back in 1938.
The United States Postal Service has a great change-of-address service … in theory that is. When you move they’ll forward your mail for a full year, for FREE! I couldn’t believe this when I heard it, because in Holland you pay €2.25 per week (after the first month) to have your mail forwarded, and that’s just inside Holland; if you move outside Europe it’ll set you back €9.25 per week. That’s quite expensive if you consider that USPS will forward regular mail and packages for a year, and newspapers and magazines for 2 months, totally free. When Amy moved to Holland her mail all got forwarded across the pond, it was great. Well, this time it is not exactly working out for us. More »